Agriculture continues to be the main source of economic development in Malawi. It employs 80% of the population in Malawi and contributes 90% of exports. However, high population density, soil infertility, low level of irrigation leading to dependence on rain fed agriculture, high post harvest losses, increased vulnerability to weather shock are all among the challenges facing the country’s agriculture sector. Failures in agricultural production directly result in food insecurity. This is mainly due to rain dependent agriculture on over cultivated soils using inferior seeds by subsistence farmers. Smallholder livestock also faces a lot of challenges. Without agriculture intensification, the country is poised to suffer economically. Much of the blame has been put upon the agriculture extension services. However what do the extension technocrats have to say in regards to such issues and what is being done to address these challenges?
Under the auspices of the Malawi Forum for Agriculture Advisory Services (MaFAAS), different extension practitioner from across the country gathered at Malawi Institute of Management on the 8th and 9th May, 2013 for a stakeholder workshop and general assembly. The theme of the workshop was ‘Strengthening Extension and Advisory Services in Malawi.’ The gathering was presided over by the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Honourable Ulemu Chilapondwa. Kusamala participated in workshop and general assembly.
In his address, Chilapondwa stated that “MaFAAS is a key partner of the ministry of agriculture and food security since it brings different players to share best practices. It adds value to the initiatives being made by the government. It provides a platform for sharing and renegotiating extension and advisory services in Malawi.” He concluded that MaFAAS brings great expectations and as a minister he pledged continuous support since it is in line with the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWaP) of government and it is complementing the economic recovery plan (ERP). For ASWaP to be achieved, it shall require an active and robust extension service and therefore, it recognizes the role of MaFAAS.
The issues that transpired in the deliberations included: expired extension policy of the year 2000- hence the need for it to be reviewed; disjointed information which confuses farmers, hence the need for the ministry to institute a technology validation committee which will check technologies; low budgetary allocation; low literacy level which leave farmers unable to demand extension services from extension workers; and finally lack of policy literacy amongst the extension practitioners.
Unlike other conferences, this meeting did not end at presentations of papers; it identified action points. Some of the actions that were identified are: registration of MaFAAS to ensure its legitimacy, publicity of the forum, harmonization of the lead farmer concept, lobbying for the review of the agriculture extension strategy in the national agriculture policy, developing a strategy for strengthening linkages between research and extension services, role of radio and ICT in extension services, and building the capacity of existing extension officer and strategy for addressing high vacancy rates in the extension services and extracurricular activities among extension workers.
In her remarks, Madam Kankwamba (Director of Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security) stated that there is need for collaboration, coordination and joint planning systems to respond to the needs of the different players entering the extension service.
Kusamala’s Chisomo Kamchacha reports from the MaFAAS Workshop in Lilongwe.